Whimsical and matted with this notion of keys, literal and metaphorical, Helen Oyeyemi’s short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, opens the ways for more confusion and a labyrinthine mind, as we progress through the compiled book. In Books and Roses one significant key opens a library, a garden, and the clues to at least two lovers’ destinies. In Is Your Blood as Red as This? an unlikely key unlocks the heart of a student at a puppeteering school. ‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea involves a house where doors can be closed only with a key and in If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think, a key keeps a mystical diary locked.
However, as the title of the book suggests, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, there is nothing evocatively insightful with this writing, albeit imaginative and experimental in style. Hitting those that enjoy a good taste of magical realism her tales span multiple times and landscapes as they taunt borders between coexisting realities. Exploring it’s many possibilities Oyeyemi certainly encourages exploration and thinking throughout her storytelling, however frustrating the content and narrative technique could be at times.
Lost in her ramble through hearts, doors, diaries and societies, there is a notion of the extraordinary with Oyeyemi’s writing, although sometimes with a lack of arc in her tales, sometimes we are indeed, as readers, very much lost. Her inclusive style of rejecting details when it comes to genders and characters is something you acclimatise to, but takes a little work at first, and the meandering with keys is not always the easiest structure to follow. Considered by some to be wild literary writing it is obvious that she will not appeal to everyone, as not everyone is open to her playful fairy tale elements.
I do question, however, any women who would not wish to be a member of the The Homely Wench Society (in A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society) as it not only reacts to the notion of a boy’s fraternity and their take on objectifying women but also to their boy’s only book library. They not only swap their collection of books by male authors with books written by women but read them, and not only that, enjoy them. I would advocate a re-read for anyone who struggles with her structure and style of storytelling, as you will gain so much more from that second inhale. It’s wonderful storytelling despite the whimsy.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours was published by Picador on 9th February 2017.